- Post is under moderationRYAN’S ALPINA B10 3.3 TOURING / #Alpina-B10-3.3-Touring / #Alpina-B10-3.3-Touring-E39 / #Alpina-B10-E39 / #BMW-E39 / #BMW-E39-Alpina / #BMW-E39-Touring / #BMW-5-Series / #BMW-5-Series-E39 / #BMW-5-Series-Touring / #BMW-5-Series-Touring-E39 / #BMW / #Alpina / #AC-Schnitzer / #Air-Lift-Performance / #Air-Lift / #BMW-E39-Air-Lift
It’s no secret that the E39 self-levelling suspension (SLS) is the weak link in the otherwise robust E39 Touring package. A quick Google search unveils tales of woe from across the globe, with many owners cutting their losses and reverting back to conventional coil sprung rear suspension. I thought that even if I bought a car with working SLS it would soon fail, so I found one where the owner had already replaced the rear air bag units. This repair was, of course in vain, and the rear suspension still proved to be problematic for him, an excellent haggling point. My plan was to retain these factory rear air bag units and convert the management system to an aftermarket setup with new high flow compressors, increased capacity air tanks and matching air suspension struts on the front.
An extreme fix you might think, but with the current advancements in air suspension technology it’s actually a worthwhile upgrade over the coveted Alpina suspension that had covered almost 120,000 miles so far. Knowing that Air Lift Performance is right at the cutting edge of air ride management systems with its new 3H, height sensing, self-levelling system I began to dig deeper. I was adamant that I would keep the self-levelling aspect of the suspension but I have to admit, I also wanted to be able to slam the car at the touch of a button.
The area of East London that I live in is peppered with speed bumps and every flavour of traffic calming device possible, so for an every day car that I wanted to be comfortable, look cool and handle well, the Air Lift kit was hard beat. With both a controller and a mobile app with Bluetooth capability, the Air Lift Performance 3H manifold allows for a huge range of mounting options. This was great news for me; I could take full advantage of 3H technology without modifying the interior of the car to mount the handheld controller. I plan to stow the controller in the centre console of the B10 while utilising the 3H app to make on-the-fly adjustments as I like, perfect for switching from drive height to an extended speed-bump-climbing height. I really wanted a quiet and powerful setup that could easily be stowed away below the E39’s boot floor; I didn’t want it to be obvious that the car was on aftermarket air and wanted a fast-filling setup that retained the whole boot load capacity.
After speaking with Air Lift Performance’s technical team I opted for dual #444c compressors, both with isolator kits and two two-gallon tanks. The small tank sizes allowed the best chance to squeeze all of the Air Lift components into the spare wheel well. The twin #Viair-444C compressors allow for a fast tank fill and quiet operation, especially when using an Air Lift Performance compressor isolator kit. Keeping with an understated Bavarian feel, I opted for an all-black finish and everything was delivered in super quick time! With everything removed from the car, I started planning the install. Having a good idea of where everything would go I made a base for the components to mount. Luckily, because of the factory self-levelling rear suspension, the car had ample space to create a tidy spare wheel build. I adapted the original #BMW rear air bags to work with Air Lift Performance’s 3H management system and used the factory sensor locations to mount the Air-Lift-Performance-3H sensors. Admittedly it was a little bit of a suck it and see experiment, with a metric to imperial conversion for the air lines being a very interesting challenge. All of the Air Lift Performance products come with step-by-step instructions to guide you through the install so there is absolutely no guesswork required. By following these guidelines, I was able to prepare the components for a hassle-free install. I say I, what I mean is my good friend Steven Doe did.
He’s already got an Air Lift Performance bagged E21 and his knowledge with air ride installs was invaluable during this process, cheers Doey! During reassembly with the new Air Lift Performance components, we could follow the torque specification chart to ensure a safe and long-lasting install first time around. The same instruction booklet shows the best practice for removal of the OE shock absorbers too, meaning you don’t need a fully equipped workshop in order to install the new system, just basic tools and a general understanding of safe working practices. I can’t wait to show you how this looks aired out, it’s insane!Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationSIZE MATTERS
A period-styled early-’90s E30 is a very desirable thing these days. So what happens if you exaggerate all of the details just a little bit? Ernie Hofstetter is the man to ask… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Anna Taylor.
/ #BMW-E30-M50-swapped / #BMW-E30-Cab / #M50-swapped
Exaggeration, despite what your teachers at school told you, is nothing to be ashamed of. Indeed, it can be helpful in getting ahead in life to artfully embellish and subtly big up the finer points of your character and achievements, to massage the salient facts into something more colourful. Doesn’t hurt anybody, does it?
Ernie Hofstetter is a man who appreciates the nuances of this sort of behaviour. We’re not saying he’s a show off, of course – not by any means. But he’s reached the stage in his life when he’s seen a few automotive scenes come and go, ebb and flow, and he’s been taking notes all the way through. And here, with this E30, we find his meisterwerk; the physical manifestation of his years of careful observation, made real in glorious style. He’s taken the archetypal retro #BMW convertible, made it look sort of like a spec’d-up period example, but cunningly exaggerated the details. Thanks to this carefully thoughtthrough approach, the car’s almost like a cartoon – it looks like it would have done rolling through his hometown of Howell, New Jersey back in 1991, but something’s different… it’s lower, broader, meaner, more aggressive. Those subtle small details have added up to a mighty whole.
“Back when I was 18, I thought these E30s were the coolest thing,” Ernie remembers. “When the time came around decades later that I wanted a fun car, that model immediately came to mind. Throughout the years my cars have always been modified – one of my favourites was my 2006 Lincoln Mark LT pick-up truck – but this a bit different. I’ve always been interested in BMWs, it’s a quality European driving machine, so it was the clear choice this time.”
Ernie happily admits that he didn’t have a distinct plan for the car when he first got hold of it, and was willing to let inspiration be his guide. The cabriolet was found for sale in Philadelphia, and was in reasonable condition – not amazing and certainly not up to Ernie’s high standard but, of course, it was never the intention to buy someone else’s project. He wanted to create something unique of his very own: “Let the modding begin,” he mischievously grins.
The first area that was primed for exaggeration was the big oily bit under the bonnet. While M20 motors have their merits, Ernie wanted to go harder, better, faster, stronger, and the way to achieve this was to swap the thing out for the rather mightier choice of the M50. Specifically, an #M50B25 : the 2.5-litre #straight-six that you’d normally find powering an E36 325i. “The M20 was boring and ugly,” he says, somewhat mercilessly, “and the M50 is much cleaner and sleeker. Any non-essential parts were removed from the engine bay, along with any unnecessary brackets and so on, to make it all look as clean as possible; the battery was relocated to the boot to help with this too. I uprated the cooling system with a Mishimoto radiator and a Spal fan, and the exhaust system consists of ceramic-coated exhaust manifolds with heat wrap, a Borla mid-section and a Vibrant muffler – all custom, of course!
The car also started off as an automatic, but we couldn’t have that so it’s been swapped to a manual Getrag 260 five-speed transmission, with a Z3 shifter and aluminium shift carrier.”
A pretty comprehensive transformation, you’ll surely agree, but Ernie was just getting started. Having substantially beefed up the muscularity of the old drop-top, neatly morphing it from cruiser to bruiser, it was time to address the question of altitude.
Now, Ernie’s seen a thing or two, as we said, so he’s observed the stance scene evolving from grass roots to comparative mainstream. However, while air-ride has been around since World War II, its presence at the forefront of custom car culture is a relatively recent thing; back when our man was a teenager, the way to get your ride hopping was to slam in some hydros. So is that what Ernie’s opted for here? Not quite… you see, that exaggeration factor has come into play again. “I’ve always had the need to go lower,” he explains (note that he uses the word ‘need’ – that’ll no doubt be familiar to a number of you. This isn’t just playing, it’s a lifestyle). “The only thing that could satisfy me with this project was air suspension. So now the car has a full Air Lift system, with 3P management, rolling sleeves up front and Slamit Industries bags in the rear with Bilstein shocks. I custom-painted the airtank in the trunk, which gives a good supply of air at all times!” Well, that’s good to hear.
The next logical step was to put some thought into the wheels. No good slamming the thing over a set of weedy stock steels, right? So Ernie bolted on some 17” rims from iForged… but then he quickly changed his mind. The period style of the early Nineties was calling, and he found himself drawn toward the timeless charms of the BBS RS, knocking the diameter down an inch but beefing up the girth to amusing degrees: these things are 7.5” wide at the front, 8.5” out back, and the way it sits is so aggressively juicy that it almost makes your eyes water. Imagine an automotive cartoonist in the early 1990s sketching up a BBS-shod E30, slamming it to the ground with improbable lows – that’s the look Ernie’s achieved in real life. Once again, it’s a masterstroke of considered exaggeration. “Whatever happened to the car, I wanted it to be as clean as possible,” he assures us.
“The small details count to me. So this car was a real labour of love! The bulk of it was actually built by Michael Hockman, who is a legend in the E30 community, and has now become a great friend of mine. But all the fine finishing work was done by me, with great pride, as well as some talented people: Levent from Guten Parts, Andrew from Open Road Tuning, Rich from County Line Auto Body, and of course my fantastic wife Michelle who has the patience of a saint!”
What’s clear as Ernie talks us through the detail points of the car is that this sits somewhere on the mid-point of the scale between evolution and revolution; some of the changes he’s made are pretty extreme, and yet the whole ethos of the thing is to consider a period build and artistically amp it up for a 21st century audience. Take the treatment of the interior: “I wanted the insides to be as stock as possible, but I still wanted the modern amenities,” he says. “So that meant an AV audio receiver, iPod interface, reversing camera, satellite radio, navigation – all of the things that make it more comfortable.” And that’s exactly what we find in there, all subtly and tastefully integrated into the old-skool vibe. It certainly helps that work like this is his bread-and-butter, being a salesman of stereo and security systems for cars as well as all manner of bolt-on performance gizmos, and this E30 ’vert is a solid manifestation of his skills as well as his aspirations.
“It took a good six months to get the car to a quality I was happy with,” Ernie explains. “But there’s always fine-tuning going on – they’re never really finished, are they?” Well, no, he’s hit the nail on the head there. We always find new things to fiddle with. And when you’ve been observing the scene for as long as Ernie has, your mind can’t help but be constantly swimming with fresh ideas and new things to try. So this E30 is bound to change in the near future – possibly unrecognisably – but in this cheery little snapshot of the here-and-now, it’s pretty much perfect. An early-Nineties style convertible, with all the details cleverly exaggerated to turn it into a thoroughly modern creation.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE #BMW-E30-M50 / #BMW-E30 / #BMW-325i-E30 / #BMW-325i-E30-M50 / #BMW-E30-Cabriolet / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E30 / #BMW-3-Series-Cabrio / #BMW-325i-Cabriolet / #BMW-325i-Cabriolet-E30 / #Getrag / #Viair / #BMW-E30-Air-Lift
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 2.5-litre straight-six #M50B25TU / #M50 / #BMW-M50 / #M50B25 from E36 325i, #Mishimoto radiator, Spal 16” fan, battery relocated to boot, #Raceskids skid plate, 318i harness cover, ceramic-coated headers with heat wrap, custom Y-pipe, #Borla mid-pipe and #Vibrant rear box with 2.5” piping, shaved and wire-tucked bay, #Getrag-260 five-speed conversion, custom transmission brace, Z3 shifter, aluminium shift carrier, 3.73 LSD
CHASSIS 7.5x16” (front) and 8.5x16” (rear) ET14 #BBS-RS / #BBS , 180 slant lip (front) and 247 slant lip (rear), with 195/45 (front) and 215/40 (rear) Yokohama S-Drive tyres, full #Air-Lift suspension system with front rolling sleeves and Slamit Industries rear bags, Autopilot 3P management, dual #Viair-444C compressors
EXTERIOR Smoked projector headlights with integrated indicators, 6k low- and 3k high-beam HID lights, Euro grilles, rear impact strip fitted to front bumper, smoked tails and corner lights, front and rear valances with Ryan G splitter
INTERIOR #M-Tech-II suede steering wheel, suede gaiters, chrome gauge rings with Alpina tach strip and painted needles, #ZHP illuminated gear knob, #BMW pedal set including foot rest, Alpine AV receiver with navigation and reversing camera, JL Audio speakers, subwoofer and amplifier
Gorgeous 16” #BBS RSs boast impressive width and have serious dish going on.
Air Lift 3P #Air-ride setup lets Ernie go as low as he wants to while custom boot build shows off both air components and upgraded audio elements, which include JL Audio speakers, subwoofer and amp.
“The small details count to me. So this car was a real labour of love!”Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationROUGH DIAMOND
Purists may argue that the Mk3 GTI wasn’t exactly the Golf’s finest hour, but Kyle Wilinsky begs to differ. He’s a ‘never say never’ kinda guy… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Jonathan DeHate.
The concept of the ‘difficult second album’ is something muchdocumented in the music press.
Bands that come in strong with their first long-players can find themselves mired in their own hype, their early work becoming an impossible act to follow – look at The Stone Roses’ Second Coming, The Strokes’ Room on Fire, or The Clash’s Give ’Em Enough Rope; following the success of such strong debuts, these LPs were always doomed to be sidelined. And it can be true of third albums too – a band may manage to hurdle Difficult Second Album Syndrome, only to come crashing headfirst into Questionable Third Album territory. Just ask Oasis about Be Here Now.
This is precisely where Volkswagen’s GTI sub-brand found itself in the early 1990s, with the advent of the Mk3 Golf and all of the peaks and troughs that car entailed. With the Mk1 GTI having woven itself firmly and celestially into the firmament of all-time greats, the Mk2 carrying on the good work with forthright decisiveness, and then ramping up the levels of excellence with casual aplomb in the sublime 16v evolution, the third-generation hot hatch came as something of a damp squib. 150bhp-odd was handy enough, but the thing suffered from a bit of middle-age spread, it was podgier and less agile. Perfectly okay for some, but not really good enough for others.
However, in the USA that fabled GTI badge could also be found glued next to one that read ‘VR6’ (rather than being separate entities like in Europe), and the addition of a couple of cylinders and a further 20bhp or so helped to liven things up a bit. And that’s where the story begins for the Golf we’re looking at today…
The story of its owner, Kyle Wilinsky, starts rather earlier: “My love for Volkswagens began when I was 15 years old,” the smiley Pennsylvanian explains. “I was introduced to the VWVortex forum, and that was that; when the time came to purchase my first vehicle, it had to be a #VW – in the end, it was a Mk2 Jetta.” You can see the seeds being sown here, can’t you?
An all-consuming online community, a fledgling first-hand introduction to the Golf platform, there was only one way this was destined to go. And it wasn’t long before those seeds grew up and bore fleshy Teutonic fruit. “After a couple more years and a couple more cars, a friend had this Mk3 Golf for sale; we came to a deal on the price and it was mine for $1800. It wasn’t in the best condition, quite neglected, but I only bought it as a cheap second car so I wasn’t too worried. I just gave it some basic maintenance and cleaned it up a bit.”
As you’ll have deduced from the photos (or if you’ve cheated and have already read the spec box), however, this wasn’t where the project stalled. As we hear so often from feature car owners, there was one sole spark of inspiration that crystallised into the kernel of an idea, and went on to dictate the ethos of the project from that date forth. In Kyle’s case, this spark showed itself during a joyride in a buddy’s car.
“I was offered a ride in a friend’s VR6 turbo, and from that moment I was completely hooked on the idea of fitting a turbo to my car,” he laughs. “I started ordering parts, and after a couple of months I had everything I needed to start the project. I guess I must mention that I had no real mechanical experience, and basically had to learn everything as I went, along with the help of some friends.” Kyle seems to be a man who enjoys a steep learning curve though, as it was only a matter of weeks before the newly force-induced motor was back together and offering an eye-watering 411bhp, which is certainly enough to quieten the Mk3 naysayers. “It was an absolute blast to drive,” he enthuses, as you might expect from someone who’s way more than doubled his car’s factory output using little more than a set of spanners and some well-placed advice. The sense of achievement must have been nearimmeasurable.
And naturally, with things going so well under the bonnet, Kyle’s eye began to turn to the rest of the car – after all, once you’ve started putting the effort in, you need to make it an object of personal pride, don’t you?
“The stock interior was pretty neglected, so I decided to pay it some attention,” he says. “I got it professionally detailed and the factory black really came to life; I was shocked at the result, and that’s when I started to gather parts for the exterior. I’d always loved the look of the Euro-spec GTI, so I knew that was the direction I was headed: I started purchasing everything I could get hold of for the full Euro makeover!”
Piece by piece the aesthetic transformation came together, with the ’98 GTI receiving bona fide texture-top bumpers, mouldings and arch flares, along with a shaved CL tailgate with its Euro-sized numberplate recess. Kyle hasn’t gone full OEM though; in fact, he’s cannonballed square-on into the choppy waters of obscure parts-hunting that define the builds of so many of you out there – when was the last time, for instance, that you saw a Henri Lloyd Yachting edition front lip? These appeared on an obscure Italian version of the Mk3 estate, and watercooled obsessives pay through the nose for them, if and when they can track them down.
“Eventually I started to get used to the power and decided to turn the boost up,” he recalls, slightly uneasily. “About 30 miles after I’d cranked it up to 22psi, the gearbox decided it wasn’t going to hold and shattered third gear! After doing some research I found that if I kept the power levels where they were, I was either going to deal with breaking and replacing gears regularly or I was going to have to build a stronger gearbox. I opted to park the car and save my money for some hardened straight-cut gears to ensure I would no longer have issues.”
By this point Kyle was around two years into ownership, and over the course of the next two years the car saw a number of changes to complement the evolving powertrain, with the Golf being reworked during the cold winter months to emerge from its chrysalis anew in the springtime – seats, wheels, they were changing all the time. “I’m never satisfied!” he laughs. “I’m always looking for fresh things to do with the car. I embarked upon a full engine bay shave and wire-tuck which, with the help of some friends, was a three-month marathon of grinding and welding… the bay and the motor are what I’m most proud of with this car, I spent countless hours and nights in the garage with friends and cheap beer to get the car ready.”
‘Ready’? Ah yes, Kyle had a target in mind to showcase the fruits of his labours – a Pennsylvania show entitled Cult Classic. With the date drawing ever nearer, our man was in the garage at all hours trying to get the thing tip-top, and his tireless endeavours paid off with gusto.
“I ended up winning ‘Best In Show’, out of around 500 cars,” he says, still flabbergasted. “Without a doubt it was the best feeling knowing that all my hard work was worth it and people were really enjoying the car.”
This was all going off in 2014, and the car has changed a fair bit since then. Well, as you might expect, really. People like Kyle aren’t prone to kicking their heels or watching the grass grow. Indeed, for this feature alone the car had to be reshot twice because Kyle kept changing things. “I really do have a problem,” he says, but it’s a pretty good problem to have.
“As I’m talking to you about it now, I’m only just realising that I’ve owned the car for seven years,” he continues, evidently slightly shellshocked by the telescoping effect of time’s relentless pendulum. “I can’t express how grateful I am for all the people that have helped me turn wrenches, given advice, or simply kept me company during this journey – it’s really what the car community is all about for me. The car has surpassed any of my expectations, and people really seem to love it and appreciate what I’ve built. The Golf has won multiple awards, was invited into Top Dawg class at H2Oi, and now this feature. Wow, what a feeling!” All of which serves to prove that you don’t need to be a scene darling or an Instagram celebrity to nail this VW lark. You can set out with an unloved example of a maligned model and, starting with a knowledge base and skillset close to zero, still manage to totally kill it on the showground time and time again.
The fact that this Golf is just as fast and agile as it is easy on the eye is solid testament to Kyle’s tenacity. He has put in the hours to make it work, and that’s what makes him a winner. He’s really got a taste for it now too… reckon the car’s looking the same today as it does here in print? No, of course it isn’t. Kyle’s always got plans. You’ll just have to keep an eye on the Mid-Atlantic water-cooled scene – this old-skool rough diamond is only going to keep getting sharper…
“The car has surpassed any of my expectations, and people really seem to love it and appreciate what I’ve built”
Dub Details / #VW-Golf-III / #VW-Golf-Mk3 / #VW-Golf-Mk-III / #Volkswagen-Golf-Mk3 / #Volkswagen-Golf-III / #Volkswagen / #Volkswagen-Golf-VR6-Mk3 / #Volkswagen-Golf-VR6-III / #Volkswagen / #VW-Golf-VR6-Mk-III / #VW-Golf-VR6 / #VW-Golf-VR6-Mk3 / #VW / #Volkswagen-Golf-VR6 / #Volkswagen-Golf / #Precision
ENGINE: Shaved and wire-tucked bay, 2.8-litre #VR6 , polished engine covers, #Megasquirt standalone ECU, #Precision-6262-T4 turbo, #ATP exhaust manifold, custom heat shield, #DEI turbo blanket, 3” stainless steel turbo-back exhaust, #Tial wastegate and blow-off valve, Precision 600 intercooler, custom intercooler piping, #Schimmel intake manifold, #Accufab 75mm throttle body with custom manifold adaptor, 034 fuel rail with 630cc injectors, #Walbro 255 fuel pump, #Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator, #Mishimoto aluminium radiator, dual slim fans, custom aluminium coolant lines and overflow tank, Eurosport oil cooler, relocated temp sensors, hidden coilpack, custom front crossmember with #Black-Forest motor mounts, O2A gearbox with #APTuning straight-cut gears, #Quaife differential, #ARP hardware, reinforced clutch fork, #SPEC Stage 3 clutch, Euro-spec lightened flywheel, CAE shifter, O2J shift tower and cables
CHASSIS: 8.5x17” (front) and 9x17” (rear) #CCW-D240 with brushed faces, polished lips, #ARP gold wheel bolts and goldplated lug nuts, Falken tyres, #Air-Lift suspension, #AccuAir-ELevel management, five gallon aluminium air tank, two #Viair-444C 444cc / #Viair compressors, #H&R 25mm front anti-roll bar, Eurosport rear strut brace, Audi TT 312mm front brakes with cross-drilled discs
EXTERIOR: Euro texture-top bumpers, shaved Euro CL tailgate, Euro textured mouldings and arch flares, shaved windscreen squirters, custom shortened mirrors, badgeless grill, Henri Lloyd Yachting front lip, Kamei air ducts, smoked indicators, Hella tail-lights, E-code headlights, #Bonrath mono wiper
INTERIOR: Recaro Sportster CS with suede inserts, suede wrapped A, B, and C pillars, suede headlining, custom rear seat delete with leather-wrapped air tank, Wiechers roll-cage, AEM digital boost controller, AEM air/fuel gauge, AEM oil PSI gauge, GReddy turbo timer, NRG quick release hub, Momo steering wheel, Alpine head unit, Pioneer speakers, JL Audio stealthbox with 10” JL audio subwoofer, JL audio amp
SHOUT: Thanks to my fiancée Lisa for always understanding and supporting my hobby. Borek, Adam, Jacob, Thompson, Jarad, Steve, Bergey, Rick at DEFIV, Jason at 4everkustoms, Andrew at Open Road Tuning, DeHate for the pics, and everyone else who has helped along the wayStream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationStancing with the Stars MERCEDES 190 ON AIR
They’re a great staple of any Retro Cars diet, and when they look as good as this it’s pretty obvious why that is. James Brown fell for the ‘Baby Benz’ at a tender age. And you know what they say about your first love… Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Chris Frosin.
Massively over-engineered’. That’s a phrase you can always rely on. When the chips are down, you’re nervously eyeing your temperature gauge, or you can hear a suspicious clonking noise that you just can’t put your finger on, that handy and reassuring motif will always be there to make everything all right. Not that any of those issues should surface in a Mercedes-Benz-190E , of course.
This is, in fact, a phrase employed by Mercedes-Benz themselves to describe the model when it emerged blinking into the motorscape way back in late 1982. This car represented the dawn of a new era for #Mercedes , the so-called ‘Baby Benz’ being the marque’s first foray into the compact-executive sector. They poured over £600m into the model’s R&D, patenting a natty new five-link rear and throwing in all sorts of über-modern accoutrements: seatbelt pretensioners, airbags, #ABS … with BMW dominating the sector with the ubiquitous 3 Series, M-B had to go in hard. They needed to over-engineer the thing, it was the only way to muscle in.
This sort of developmental extravagance has, unsurprisingly, given the car quite a strong following. You tend to find pretty fervent brand evangelists in the retro car world – Mini fans who’ll drive nothing but Minis, Mk1 Golf owners who won’t shut up about Wolfsburg – but it’s interesting to note that Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts are more effusive than most. Once that three-pointed star is emblazoned upon the subconscious, it’s there for keeps.
Take James Brown, for example. Hailing from the Essex town of Tiptree (a place variously famous for jams and jellies, and the ‘Tiptree Sneeze’ – look it up), he combines his hometown’s trademark mix of saccharine fruitiness and loud noises with a lifelong love of Mercs. His first car was a 190E, he’s had a few of ’em since, and now he’s built this. He’s pretty much incurable. Sure, there have been a few deviations from the path, but true love always shines through.
“My first car was a red 190E, back when I was sixteen,” he grins. “I lowered it, and put a spoiler on it, and a set of seventeens… but then I couldn’t afford to insure it!
So I had to sell it and get a Honda Civic.” Thereafter followed a protracted series of modifying experimentations, the Civic receiving the same treatment that the 190E had, before James reverted to geographical type and got into Fords. But when his hot XR2i ended up unceremoniously planted up an elderly gent’s backside (not literally, but almost), our protagonist found himself in a #Mercedes-Benz once more. Well, it was always inevitable really, wasn’t it? Written in the stars.
“My second 190E was special,” he reminisces, a sparkle of whimsy in his twinkling eyes. “I got it from my good friend John, and to this day I still blame this guy for getting my Mercedes love to flow! He sold me one in the same colour as the current one – it was on some cool seventeens, and on the floor, and I loved that car so much. But then the need for more power came back in my life.” And he was off again, like an easily distracted whippet, finding himself in a heavily modded 106 GTI (a car that dove so deep down the rabbit hole it ended up being featured in Max Power), before reverting back to the Fatherland: an Audi A3 followed, belittling passers-by with its nineteen’s, then a BMW E46 Compact on, ahem, 20in chrome spinners. Hey, if you always make good decisions then you’ve got nothing to learn from, right?
But it was no use. This multi-marque dabbling was just a distraction from James’s true Mercedes calling. He did the right thing. He bought himself another 190E. It ended up on the cover of Retro Cars in July 2011. And lo, his work was good.
…but then he started working on an Audi TT project, which was a very involved build, and… wait. No. Stop. This is all but a fleeting distraction from the wholesome pursuit of 190Es. Come back into the light, James. It’s warm in here. You’re safe. Come.
Oh, and he did. And how. “It was my first love,” he explains, matter-of-factly. “I’ve always been a Mercedes guy, I always will be. I can’t shake it.” And so the endless procession of a long, long line of projects has culminated in this, a straight-as-an-arrow 2.6.
“After looking at several cars with Jag of Jags Bodyshop, we just kept finding bodged-up, expensive cars that claimed to be immaculate,” sighs James. This is an unfortunate quirk of the 190E, as theoretically they should be borderline bulletproof; when the nuclear winter comes, it’ll just be cockroaches, Twinkies and well-maintained 190Es left on the face of the Earth. Unfortunately, these once-expensive premium-compacts have fallen into the realm of sub-minicab cheapness, so they become disposable. There’s a lot of crap out there, cars that haven’t been looked after. “We ended up settling on an honest car at a reasonable price that needed a bit of paint and tidying,” he says pragmatically. “I was always planning on getting Jag to paint it anyway, so that wasn’t an issue, and a bit of servicing and loving was all it really needed.”
Of course, this was never going to be a concours resto. You’ve read the guy’s car history, you know what he’s like. The car you see here was pretty much the vision he had in mind at the time, although it wasn’t always a clear path from vision to reality. As you can no doubt hear Samuel L. Jackson booming in his best scary Pulp Fiction voice, “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men”. But whatever – challenges are character-building, aren’t they?
So, without further ado, Jag set about painting James’s new ride. “Jag’s always painted my cars, and I’m always able to trust him to get my ideas perfect – although I do totally blame him for my OCD-esque cleaning habit,” he says. The car’s been repainted in its original shade, but as you can see that’s really all it needs – an overblown or ostentatious colour would have ruined the simplicity of the thing. You see, there are a lot of people that decry the ‘stop, drop and roll’ approach to modifying – the idea that a reduction in altitude and some well-chosen wheels are all that’s required to allow the car’s aesthetic to speak for itself – but James’s 190E is the ultimate proof that the formula works. And this is due, in large part, to his rather wonderful choice of wheels.
“Brian at Rotiform was great,” he smiles. “I showed him a picture of the original Mercedes 8-hole wheels and said ‘I want the biggest dishes we can get away with’! The finished product has really become the talking point of the car.” You can see why; the genius of the design is that it pays respectful homage to the car’s original factory alloys, but they are in fact all-new wheels custombuilt by Rotiform to offer something that no other 190E has. This makes James the king of the double-take – his ride-height and the cleanliness of the thing draw you in, then as you turn away your brain says ‘Hang on a minute, what’s up with those rims?’… and the answer is that they’re a head-spinning, bespoke set of two-piece wheels with hidden hardware and the valve caps cunningly slipped around the back. It really is a bunch of effort and expense for something that a lot of people wouldn’t even notice. Such is the modern wheels arms race.
When it came to the suspension, James had Merc’s original Baby Benz ethos firmly in mind. There would be no half-measures here, it had to be ‘massively over-engineered’ or nothing at all. “I wanted the best,” he explains. “When it came to air-ride, I always said I wanted this car to be 100% – no leaks, no issues, no nothing. So it went to Luke at Plush Automotive, as I knew he’d get the job done. Not many people had used these BMW AirLift struts at that time, and it’s fair to say it was a little more involved than just bolting the things on!” The system is governed by AirLift’s world-class V2 management, and to help things along Jag had already tickled the arches out a little, by 10mm at the front and 15mm out back, in order to ensure the perfect clearance and fitment.
Plush’s work wasn’t done there either – check out the sublime boot build housing the Viair treats and hardlines along with a full-house Vibe Black Air audio setup in the shelf. The crispness of the install looks almost factory, provided that you can set aside the fact that James has stuffed a load of choice modern hardware into the Merc’s nooks and crannies.
A bona fi de, über-polished showpiece, then? A pampered trailer queen? No, not a bit of it. James barely needed encouraging to pull a cheeky burnout for our shoot, and if there’s one thing he really loves, it’s driving around in his meisterwerk and showing it to the world as what it is: a massively over-engineered cruiser. “I use it mainly for summer evenings and weekends, and I did some of the shows last year,” he says, “but I love just going for random drives in it. Hopefully this year I’ll be taking it all over Europe – possibly not even for shows, but just for the sake of enjoying road trips with other Merc enthusiasts.” And that really is the crux of the build. At its very essence, it’s a driver’s machine; James has simply enhanced every element that he felt required enhancement, to make the best even better. Because even if something’s overengineered, there’s nothing to stop you taking it further.
SPECIFICATION / #Rotiform-MBZ / #Rotiform / #Mercedes-Benz-190E / #Mercedes-Benz-190E-W201 / #Mercedes-Benz-W201 / #Mercedes-Benz / #Mercedes-190E / #Mercedes-Benz-190E-2.6 / #Mercedes-Benz-190E-2.6-W201
ENGINE: #M103.940 2.6-litre straight-six / #M103 / #Mercedes-Benz-M103
TRANSMISSION: #Mercedes-Benz-722-400 automatic gearbox
SUSPENSION: BMW E36 #AirLift front struts, custom rear mounts and universal airbags, #Viair-444C compressors, #AirLift-V2-management / #Air-Lift-V2
BRAKES: Stock 190E
WHEELS & TYRES: 8x17in (front) and 9.5x17in (rear) #Rotiform MBZ 2-piece with 195/40 (f) and 215/40 (r) tyres
INTERIOR: Momo Prototipo steering wheel, flushed #AirLift V2 controller, Vibe Black Air audio system inc. front and rear components running twin amps plus 2x 12in subwoofers
EXTERIOR: Full respray in original colour, arches extended 10mm (front) and 15mm (rear)
THANKS: “Jag - Jags Bodyshop 07976 830145, Luke - Plush Automotive, Carl Taylor, Brian - Rotiform Wheels, Tommy Teapot - Meguiars UK, Mark- Vibe Audio, Luke, Viv, Jaylos & John Russell. And Becky for putting up with me constantly cleaning it.”
Damn that sits well on the custom-made 17in Rotiforms!
This 190E epitomises the ‘stop, drop and roll’ approach to modifying.
Bulbous Mercedes airbag steering wheel has been eschewed in favour of this natty little Momo number.
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